Games You Absolutely Need to Buy During the Steam Summer Sale, Part 1

Need some help sifting through the thousands of games on Steam to find the best titles to spend your cash on? Well maybe I can guide you in the right direction. Over the remaining week of the Steam Summer Sale, I’ll be posting a few capsule review round-ups featuring some of the favorite games I’ve been playing lately. Check out these top picks and stay tuned for more recommendations in the coming days. Happy summer sale shopping!

Hit the link below for more summer sale favorites.

Games You Absolutely Need to Buy During the Steam Summer Sale, Part 2

Firewatch — Summer Sale Price: $8.99 (55% off)

Firewatch_1

For those who prefer immersive story over complex gameplay in their videogames, Firewatch is an unquestioned buy. With an uncanny ability to make you feel lost and lonely while also developing a sense of from-a-distance companionship at the same time, this narrative first-person adventure from Campo Santo places you in the role of Henry (or “Hank”), a middle-aged dude who takes a summertime job as a wildfire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness to get away from a tragic personal life event established during a sort of choose-your-own-adventure introduction. While hiking through the woods on lookout duty (yes, the game is primarily a “walking simulator”), Henry’s supervisor Delilah becomes the best video game friend you’ll ever make (or not, depending on how you decide to play) exclusively through walkie-talkie conversations structured around timed dialogue choices. Hank’s job begins normally enough as his first days involve following the trail of some drunk teenagers setting off illegal fireworks, but before long the story takes a suspenseful turn as a mysterious series of events make it a summer Henry and Delilah will never forget. And neither will you.

While the central plot remains a constant no matter what, things you choose to do or say lead to slight outcome alterations, generate running in-jokes, cause collected objects to reappear in Hank’s watchtower bunk, and dictate how Delilah responds and interacts. You can constantly report items and events you encounter, act playful and flirtatious, and be open about sharing details from Hank’s personal life while also showing mutual interest in lending an ear to Delilah’s woes, or go the opposite route by giving her the cold shoulder and keeping to yourself, avoiding or outright ignoring small talk altogether. The different responses are very subtle, but multiple playthroughs are definitely worthwhile if you pay careful attention. The writing will suck you in with its maturity as well as a sense of humor that feels so effortless and natural, aided greatly by the masterful voice acting performances from Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones. The rapport that builds between the characters is the most realistic and believable I’ve experienced in a game before, a cut above even the real-time chatter Naughty Dog has used to great effect in Uncharted and The Last of Us, because here you actually have agency over how the conversations progress rather than being merely a bystander. By the time the nuanced and evocative ending arrived, I felt a bond with Hank and Delilah as if they were real people.

While there isn’t much to the gameplay beyond collecting notes, picking up and inspecting items, opening stash boxes, and occasionally clicking interaction points to have Hank rope climb/rappel or hack through brush with a fireman’s axe, the act of hiking the gorgeous, quasi-open environment, charting the wilderness with an in-game compass and map which updates as you explore, complements the conversational storytelling with the proper sense of immersive escapism. Since its initial launch early last year, the game’s also been updated with a true free-roam mode as well as an audio tour version of the main campaign with added developer commentary cassette tapes and concept art bulletin boards to discover throughout the world. Firewatch also has an awesome merchandising tie-in collectible in the form of a disposable camera you can use to snap in-game pictures and then have developed as a physical pack of photographs.

Flat Kingdom Paper’s Cut Edition — Summer Sale Price: $3.19 (60% off):

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a princess has been kidnapped and some magic jewels, which of course keep nasty monsters sealed away to maintain balance within the kingdom, are being stolen, and it’s up to you to save the day. From this clichéd plot intro blossoms a delightful little 2D platformer-that-could, set inside a deliciously colorful pop-up world that looks like it was handcrafted from a pack of construction paper.

Our plucky, paper-ized hero Flat folds himself into different shapes at the push of a different button, each shape imparting a unique movement characteristic and corresponding skillset. In circle form, Flat moves at a normal speed and has a double-jump. Square form makes Flat so heavy to the point that his jump becomes useless, exchanged for the ability to block projectiles like a shield or weigh down pressure plates. Then as a triangle, Flat runs at sprint speed, cuts/pops certain objects, and becomes more aerodynamic for launching longer distances. Using the shapes in tandem becomes more important as you progress, such as sprinting as triangle and then switching to square at top speed to launch into walls like a battering ram, or double jumping in circle form for a mid-air square transformation into a butt-stump.

When the baddies come out to play, the shape-swapping mechanic doubles as a rock-paper-scissors ruleset–circle beats square, square beats triangle, and triangle beats circle–whereby you have to change Flat’s shape to counter that of the enemy. Some of the enemy design cues are a bit too subtle, requiring some trial and error to figure out which shape category certain creatures belong to, but for the most part the boss and level design is well balanced and inventive. Levels are even designed with hidden areas, side quests, and collectible coins and lore pages that require revisiting after learning additional skills, which adds worthwhile replay value for collectible hunting completionists.

With a unique arts and crafts popup storybook hook, Flat Kingdom has many hours of 2D hop ‘n bop enjoyment to offer platformer fans. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by its light-hearted appearance, because at the highest levels of difficulty the game is totally capable of inflicting death by a thousand paper cuts if you aren’t careful.

Hidden Folks — Summer Sale Price: $5.99 (25% off):

Anyone who’s been reading here for a while by now knows that I’m a total sucker for a hidden object game. There’s just something so soothing and meditative about searching through scenes to tick off a list of sneakily hidden items. The majority of hidden object titles take after the first-person adventure genre, casual-ized with little puzzles and tacked-on stories. Hidden Folks, on the other hand, draws inspiration from the Where’s Waldo? school of hidden object hunting, offering a small collection of picturesque black-and-white scenery hiding a cast of quirky folks, critters, and items you’ll need a sharp mind and keen eye to spot. Each area contains multiple targets to find, and the miniature landscapes are animated and interactive, requiring you to click and drag with the mouse cursor to pull open doors and window curtains, remove manhole covers, dig up buried treasure (remember X marks the spot!), chop down overgrown vegetation, wind cranks, and activate buttons and levers.

These different interactive elements are never clearly explained, so you do have to learn through experimentation. This can cause moments of frustration as you periodically get stumped only to luck into an object discovery by hitting the cursor on an interaction point while in the process of clicking and dragging to pan the camera. However, enough guidance is provided through hint text that accompanies each object on the collection list with clues pointing you towards environmental cues so you almost always know the general area to focus on for each individual search. It also helps that the progression requirements are pretty lenient. Completionists and achievement hunters can enjoy plenty of additional seek and find fun to get 100% completion, but access to the next level only ever requires discovering a portion of the checklist. The latter scenes contain a number of incredibly tricky and well-hidden characters that you’ll need a fine-tooth comb to solve, but since finding everything is optional there’s never a feeling of being unfairly gated, thus welcoming players of varying skill levels. Gradually expanding scenes, both in terms of scale and content density, also contribute to a fair and accessible difficulty curve from start to finish.

It’s like love at first sight as soon as you lay eyes on the intricately hand-drawn line art that brings the different areas to life, but the true star of Hidden Folks is its vocalized sound effects. Every bird chirp, car horn, door creak, snake slither, crocodile roar, insect buzz, zipper unzipping, thump of stereo speaker bass, and oh so satisfying “bling” that chimes when you find a folk, is performed a cappella style. It’s such a delightful flourish on top of a game already overflowing with quaint charm.

Alwa’s Awakening — Summer Sale Price: $7.49 (25% off):

It’s the oldest story in the videogame book: a land that was once vibrant and peaceful has been oppressed by a demonic tyrant, harnessing the power of four magical ornaments to enslave the people through fear and hate. A heroine summoned from another world is called upon to defeat the forces of evil, collect the ornaments, and restore the land. Thus the stage is set for Alwa’s Awakening, a glorious homage to NES era Metroidvania tinged with the 2D platforming and boss battling flavor of old school Mega Man. The 8-bit kingdom of Alwa spans a sprawling map of interconnected zones. It’s a substantial world to explore, brimming with hidden doors, false walls, secret rooms (even an entire secret dungeon), NPC interactions, references, and items (both mandatory and optional) to collect. In true Metroidvania fashion, zones contain numerous inaccessible areas that need to be revisited as additional abilities are learned. Checkpoints are abundant–though in some areas the spacing could be better balanced–while half a dozen warp portals provide quick travel points in key places around the map to at least lessen some of the backtracking tedium that is an inherent foible of the genre. Though optional, many of the collectibles actually have a meaningful value beyond just filling the world with some extra things to pad out the experience, especially these blue orbs which deal out automatic damage at the start of bosses based on how many you’ve found.

The game’s central mechanic is a spellcasting system used to aid in the combating of enemies, solving of puzzles, and traversing of tricky platforming sequences. In addition to walloping bats and slimes and skeletons with her wand, our heroine Zoe gains three spells during her adventure, enabling her to conjure green blocks as projectile barriers, stepping stools, rafts, or pressure plate weights; floating blue bubbles to ride like balloons; and yellow lightning, which serves as a powerful ranged strike as well as a means to open specifically marked doors. The platforming is floaty and pressure-sensitive (i.e. jumping distance and height is determined by the force of your button press), but not exactly built for pinpoint precision and response. While true to its roots, the game eschews a lot of the frustratingly cheap design tricks of the past, so there’s no more worrying about stuff like stunlock and knockback. In fact there’s even a brief window of invulnerability upon taking damage that affords ample time to recover. Notwithstanding a few quibbles, the Elden Pixels crew has penned a beautifully written love letter to the NES, sealed by a lipstick-coated kiss of sweet 8-bit pixel art and chiptune nostalgia.

Aliens Go Home Run — Summer Sale Price: $2.39 (40% off):

In most alien invasion stories the aliens are the aggressors, invading Earth unprovoked to eradicate humankind or harvest our natural resources (or harvest humans as the resource). Aliens Go Home Run spins that plot convention around like a Clayton Kershaw curveball. One day a young slugger goes all bionic Barry Bonds at the ballpark, crushing a homer so hard it rockets through Earth’s atmosphere and into outer space, soaring and soaring until it impacts the aliens’ home planet like a megaton asteroid. That whole incident between the sandlot boys and the Beast pales in comparison to this.

This goofball plot setup is a delivery device for a sporty bullet hell twist on the classic brick breaker genre made famous decades ago by Arkanoid and Breakout. Each stage features a different configuration of colored bricks floating above the homerun hitting baseball player character who fulfills the role of the paddle normally used to slide back and forth to deflect an orb up at the bricks. Sprinting and sliding side to side to avoid the bullet hell spray of invading alien spacecraft, the goal is to crack the always-bouncing baseball with a bat until all of the bricks are cleared before a time limit runs out or too much damage is incurred; true to the baseball theme, it’s three strikes and you’re out. The block-busting baseball is allowed to hit the ground without life altering consequence, but keeping the ball in play builds a score multiplier for each consecutive brick destroyed. Pick-ups periodically drop from the sky, which can be collected and stacked in order to activate one of four tiers of power-up, including a one-heart health restore, bubble shield to absorb a hit, multi-ball, and a vertical wave beam attack. Managing the power-up usage adds an unexpected layer of strategy, especially when up against one of the challenging boss battles. Mastering the slide is critical as well, because not only can it be used to cover ground and tee the ball up while saving a building multiplier, but also as a means to dodge through projectiles and enemies thanks to the invincibility frames of the animation. Sliding directly into bullets even clears them from the screen altogether.

Aliens Go Home Run has all the addictive trappings of a vintage high-score-’em-up Arkanoid clone, plus a number of clever twists that blend B-movie sci-fi camp with America’s favorite pastime. And is it just me or does the announcer sound like he’s straight out of Bases Loaded? (Play ball!) A boss rush mode and a level editor add worthwhile replay value, though sadly at the moment the game’s Steam Workshop community appears to be snoozing in the dugout as the selection of user-created stages can currently be counted on two hands. The 70 stages that come with purchase certainly are more than enough to keep you swinging for the fences.

Alone With You — Summer Sale Price: $3.99 (60% off):

Benjamin Rivers’ tale of alone-in-space relationship building takes place on a terraforming colony demolished by a Rift Event. Everyone’s dead except for a lone survivor–that’s you!–and a chatty AI. Harsh weather, deteriorating conditions, and depleting supplies leave you with less than a month to survive and repair the escape pod.

The storyline unfolds over a daily sequence of adventure missions and choice-driven conversations. By day, you’re tasked with walking red-scarfed astronaut survivor guy around the various colonized locations of the planet at the order of your choosing, searching for the supplies necessary to mount an escape, and scanning objects–deceased colonists, data logs, terminals, book pages–to learn about the environment, the personal lives and goings on between other colony members before they died, and most importantly just what the hell went wrong. At night, the gathered information collected from the day’s mission is synched with the AI and used to facilitate dialogue sequences with the holograms of four colonists specializing in fields necessary for mounting a successful escape plan. After every fourth daily mission, the AI prepares a special simulation where you get to choose any of the four holograms to spend a moment of rest and relaxation with. These are the times where you really get the opportunity to get to learn about and grow attached to the characters.

There is a certain monotony to the game’s rigid routine–you wake up, talk to the AI, choose a location, scan for clues and supplies, return to base, resync with the AI, compare your latest findings with the corresponding hologram, and repeat over and over for a good five to six hours. At the same time, the mundaneness of the daily grind makes each holo-sim visit something to look forward to and cherish, if only to have “someone” to chat with and help break the loneliness that sets in. Holograms remember previous comments and feel like they are actively paying attention to your decisions. Discovering certain key personal effects out in the field opens up additional dialogue options that let you more deeply explore the lives and personalities of the holograms. Eventually you’ll discover the dead bodies of the holograms’ former selves and have to deliver the hard news of how they passed, which leads to some truly emotional moments. By the end, the AI and holograms are hard to say goodbye to (if you choose to do so), despite not being real people.

Best summarized as a videogame adaptation of The Martian by way of the Sega CD, Alone With You is not to be missed by anyone who considers themselves a fan of sci-fi, visual novels, and point-and-click adventures. Yes, the gameplay is hyper-linear and involves nothing more than wandering around, searching for things to click on, and reading a bunch of text, with a scarce few moments of password deciphering serving as the only form of actual puzzle solving. However, the dialogue-driven storytelling is captivating from start to finish, while the 16-bit presentation creates a tangible atmosphere of isolation and suspense as the sounds of wind, thunder, and the pelting acid rain of the storms outside rattle the buildings all around you.

The Eyes of Ara — Summer Sale Price: $9.74 (35% off):

Indie studio 100 Stones Interactive has crafted a richly enthralling mystery adventure very much cut from the Myst cloth. The Eyes of Ara is a first-person point and click adventure set within a fully rendered and interactive three-dimensional world. Exploration is node based, meaning you move from area to area by clicking transition points, and then click and drag the mouse cursor to pan and rotate your view of each location a full 360 degrees from a fixed position. Even though this limits having true freedom of movement, the intricate modeling detail, spectacular ambient lighting, sweeping music, and natural integration of puzzles within the environments all work together harmoniously to create a grounded experience that connects you to the world. The castle setting is soaked in ambiance, exuding an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue that seizes your attention over the course of a sizeable journey upwards of 10 to 15 hours or longer. If you like your adventure games loaded with puzzles, you’ve come to the right place. The Eyes of Ara has puzzles on top of puzzles on top of more puzzles. Logic puzzles. Inventory puzzles. Code deciphering puzzles. Switch puzzles. Slider puzzles. You name a type of puzzle, this game probably has it covered. What’s also great is that many puzzles are actually optional, linked to an extensive scavenger hunt side task that allows you to poke around the castle for extra collectibles like coins, action figures, and photographs. Hotspot pixel hunting does come into play in spots, some instances more frustrating than others, but by and large the puzzles balance a healthy, brain-bending challenge with reasonable solutions that are rarely obscure or obtuse. Take my advice and keep a notepad at hand at all times as you’re definitely going to want to jot down clues so you don’t miss anything, just like the good old days.

Shadow Warrior 2 — Summer Sale Price: $23.99 (40% off):

Like Borderlands with a big ol’ wang, Shadow Warrior 2 catapults Flying Wild Hog’s 2013 reboot into a whole new stratosphere of FPS demon slaying mayhem. Imbued with a new shoot, slash, and loot mentality, the sequel returns triumphantly with the over the top humor and core gunplay feel of its potty-mouthed predecessor largely intact (though there are a number of significant tweaks), only transplanted into the expanded body of a role-playing shooter format. The most jarring change is the switch to a more open style of level design. From a hub area with loot stores and a build-a-wang workshop (aka the crafting blacksmith), you select missions from a map screen and transport out to self-contained, non-linear locations populated by procedural enemy spawns. Quest trackers leave a trail of breadcrumbs to guide you in the right direction to complete the mission at hand, but you’re always free to roam around, kill trash mobs and named elites to level grind and acquire skill points, collect gobs of loot, and search for secret areas and treasure chests at your own pace. God bless the weapon wheel for granting the opportunity to fully unleash your inner wang. The diverse array of melee blades and firearms, bolstered by an obscene volume of lootable stones which allow for customizing weapons with elemental properties and other statistical effects, are always in abundant supply so there’s never room for boredom to set in. Add in dynamic gore and dismemberment, demons that mutate into larger and more hideous forms in real time, balanced gameplay for solo and four player co-op, and some of the slickest weapon designs and reload animations ever to grace an FPS, and the ingredients are all here for unbridled run-and-gun fun.

Shadow Warrior 2 is indeed a blast, but it’s also quite different from the 2013 Shadow Warrior in a number of important ways. If you were hoping for more of the same 90s era first-person shooting, you actually may not care for this game’s drastic structural changes. If I’m being completely honest, I do prefer the more traditional linear progression of the first game to the sequel’s role-playing free roam style of gameplay. Being able to double jump and air dash around, scale buildings and dart from rooftop to rooftop, and drop from high distances into a master ninja roll definitely adds an exhilarating method of parkour exploration that the first game never had. At the same time, after a while you’ll begin to notice that the missions all seem to utilize the same handful of environment tilesets, which over the long haul becomes a bit monotonous and might make you miss the handcrafted, spontaneous linearity of the first game’s levels. There are some other omissions you might miss in the sequel as well, such as alt-fire, katana quick slash, and the scoring system for killing in different ways. But saying I prefer a few aspects of the first game isn’t a knock on the sequel, because there are many things it does to outclass its older brother. A bundle with the two modern Shadow Warriors as well as the Classic Redux is only a few bucks more than Shadow Warrior 2 by itself, so that’s the best value if you’ve yet to be penetrated by the full force of the wang.

P.S. Hit play on the track below and just imagine that rockin’ 80s anthem blaring through your headphones or speakers as you take on a gigantic spider demon. The game’s worth playing for the adrenaline pumping payoff to the end battle sequence alone. It’s amazing how a single song turns a fairly easy and ordinary boss fight into something truly epic and memorable. Stan Bush for the win!

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!